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What is a breach of confidentiality?

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Confidentiality is something we expect will be protected, but that isn’t always the case. Litigation Executive Ben Brown explains what a breach of confidentiality involves and how Hayes Connor will be able to support you.

Where you have suffered financial loss or damage to your reputation as a result, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation for breach of confidentiality.

In this article we will discuss:

At Hayes Connor, we specialise in securing damages for breach of confidentiality. We have a high level of experience and a proven track record of success in obtaining compensation payments for our clients.

If you would like immediate advice from our expert breach of confidentiality lawyers, you can call 0330 041 5135 or fill out our online claim form to start the claims process.

How can a breach of confidentiality happen?

If you provide personal data to an organisation, it generally has a duty to keep this secure. When there is a failure to do so and the information is disclosed to a third party without your consent, this is considered a breach of confidentiality. This is the case even if the information is stolen or hacked, as the organisation should have taken steps to prevent this from happening.

Most breaches are inadvertent and arise because of mistakes or carelessness on the behalf of employees of the organisation or poor data management.

Breach of confidentiality examples

Examples of breach of confidentiality include:

  • Medical records being disclosed to a third party without your consent
  • An email containing confidential information is sent to the wrong person
  • An employee discusses their employer’s affairs with someone outside of the organisation
  • A device containing confidential information is lost or stolen and accessed by someone without authority
  • An employment agency sends an individual’s details to a potential employer without their consent

Breach of confidentiality consequences

Where confidentiality is breached, an individual or a business could suffer loss or damage as a result. This could be financial losses, damage to reputation or legal damage.

For example, if a business’s plans for a new product were to be leaked, a competitor could take advantage of the idea first, causing financial loss.

If details of a business’s finances are leaked, it could cause damage to its reputation.

If an organisation allows a data breach to occur, there could be resulting legal consequences as data protection laws are broken.

For individuals, data breaches can be damaging and upsetting. If your medical records are not kept securely or the police have not kept your information private or your employer has revealed personal details about you, you are likely to feel distressed.

In any of these situations, you could be entitled to receive compensation for what has happened. This could be for financial losses and also for the distress you have suffered.

Breach of confidentiality FAQs

When is it a breach of confidentiality?

For a breach of confidentiality to occur, there needs to be the disclosure of private information to a third party without your consent.

Confidential information could be personal information or data, business data, business plans, details of financial dealings or financial position, trade secrets or intellectual property.

Some information is protected by law, for example, medical details, while other information is protected because the owner has notified others that the information is confidential.

What are your rights when it comes to breach of confidentiality?

If you have shared personal information in confidence, it cannot be disclosed to a third party unless you consent to this or there is legal authority for it to be disclosed.

Confidential information can legally be disclosed when:

  • You have given your consent
  • It is in the overriding public interest to disclose the information
  • There is legal authority, for example, the court has ordered disclosure

Where your confidential information is disclosed without this, it is likely that your rights have been breached and you are advised to speak to a solicitor about making a claim.

As well as enforcing your rights and obtaining compensation, making an official complaint can be important to protect your reputation and stop the situation from continuing.

What types of organisations typically breach confidentiality?

Unfortunately, breaches of confidentiality are increasingly common and occur with a wide range of organisations. Some of the most common include:

  • Breach of confidentiality at work or breach of employee confidentiality where your employment information is disclosed to other employees
  • Employment agencies, disclosing your details to potential employers without your consent
  • Breach of confidentiality in the NHS or other healthcare setting, such as doctors’ surgeries and hospitals releasing your medical details
  • Professionals, such as accountants, financial advisors and solicitors revealing details of your affairs to others
  • Police and the criminal justice sector allowing confidential information to be passed on unlawfully
  • Banks and other financial organisations releasing your financial details by mistake or having their records unlawfully accessed
  • Insurance companies passing on your information without consent
  • Government departments allowing your details to be viewed by third parties without permission
  • Local authorities not keeping your data safe
  • Retailers passing on confidential details to third parties
  • Schools, universities and colleges failing to keep confidential information secure
  • Travel and the leisure industry revealing details of your dealings with them

Confidential information could be shared deliberately, sold, accidentally shared online or lost because of illegal cyber activity. Where an organisation holds your data, it has a legal obligation to take adequate steps to keep it safe and if it fails, you are entitled to make a complaint.

How to deal with breach of confidentiality

If you become aware that you have suffered a breach of confidentiality, you are advised to act promptly to make the organisation aware of the situation and stop the breach from continuing.

You can ask a solicitor to write a formal letter on your behalf advising that you intend to make a claim. Your solicitor will work with you to compile the necessary evidence to build your case, including evidence of the following:

  • That there was a duty of confidentiality on the part of the person or organisation in possession of the information
  • That the information was confidential, for example, medical details where common law requires that they are kept confidential and not disclosed without consent
  • The information was released to a third party in a way that was not authorised, such as sharing private information without consent or a system being unlawfully accessed
  • You suffered detriment because of the release of the confidential information, which could be financial loss and/or distress

Am I entitled to compensation for breach of confidentiality?

Where the above has occurred, you may be entitled to claim compensation for the breach of confidentiality you have suffered.

The amount you will receive will depend on the severity of the breach and the loss or damage you have experienced.

You may also be able to obtain:

  • An injunction preventing the breach from continuing
  • Return of the confidential information
  • Disclosure of profits that have been made because of the breach of confidential information

If the third party who has received the information knows that it is confidential but uses the information anyway, you may also be able to make a claim against them. This is because an action for breach of confidential information can be brought against anyone who has used, disclosed or threatened to use or disclose confidential information without consent.

If you believe that you have a case, you are advised to take action promptly as there is a time limit in which to start your claim.

Is there a defence to breach of confidentiality?

In some cases, there may be a defence to the release of confidential information. This includes where:

  • The information is not considered confidential
  • The information is already in the public domain
  • There is public interest in disclosing the information
  • Disclosing the information is required by law
  • There is a significant risk of harm if the information is not disclosed

Contact our breach of confidentiality solicitors

You can find out more about our expertise and how we handle data breach claims here. You are advised to take swift action if you believe you have been the victim of a breach of confidentiality to ensure that your claim is commenced within the legal time limit.

We know that funding a claim may be of concern to you and we may be able to act for you on a no win no fee basis, meaning that you could bring your case without any financial risk to yourself.

To start a claim, you can use our online claim form and we will get back to you shortly to let you know if we believe you have grounds for compensation for breach of confidentiality.

If you would like to speak to a member of our team, please do not hesitate to give us a call on 0330 041 5135.